vote suppression

  • October 9, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The efforts by Republican controlled statehouses to create more hurdles to voting, such as limiting early voting, creating onerous voter identification requirements, and making it more difficult to conduct voter registration drives, are hardly a recent trend.

    Victoria Bassetti, author of Electoral Dysfunction: A Survival Manual for American Voters, argues in numerous articles that for a country that prides itself on its form of democracy the burdens on voting do not make good public policy nor provide a solid foundation for a healthy democracy. (This month PBS will air an “Electoral Dysfunction” documentary; the book is a companion piece to the documentary.)

    In a piece for The Washington Post, Bassetti says our system of voting is “mystifying” to other countries, largely because of the burdens we place on voting.

    “In the United States, we put the burden on the voter,” she writes. “And in doing so, we keep company with nations such as the Bahamas, Belize and Burundi.”

    While maintaining that very few would label voter registration “anti-democratic,” she notes that “many political and social scientists believe that our country’s practice of putting the registration burden on individuals, coupled with outmoded, paper-intense registration systems, are major causes of the United States’ perennially low voter turnout. One study estimated that voter registration barriers in the United States depress turnout by 5 to 10 percent.”

    In an Oct. 6 column for The New York Times, Bassetti explores how low turnout “produces poor representation, which produces laws people are disinclined to obey and so undermine the process.” She also mentions a rather interesting study regarding how difficult it can be for men to vote, especially if their candidates lose. The study, produced by scientists at Duke and University of Michigan, has something to do with testosterone levels in men and people with normal serotonin levels. (Simply or crudely put, voting can be tough on men because of testosterone reactions and people with weak serotonin systems.)

    Though interesting, Bassetti says such studies are not especially helpful to handling “complex issues facing our democracy.”

    Some of that complexity centers on the bureaucratic mess voting has become in many states.

  • September 18, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Pennsylvania’s top court has ordered a lower court judge to reconsider whether a preliminary injunction should be entered against the state’s ridiculously rigid voter ID law. Pennsylvania’s voter ID law signed into law by the state’s Republican governor creates significant hurdles for people to vote, especially for some of the state’s most vulnerable. Other states, mostly controlled by conservative policymakers, have also pushed through stringent voter ID requirements.

    In August, a state judge dismissed arguments that the new law, enacted “along purely partisan lines,” as the Philadelphia Inquirer puts it, would hinder the ability of minorities, students, low-income people and the elderly to vote in the forthcoming general election. (A report by The Brennan Center for Justice, which examined the Pa. voter ID law along with similarly onerous ones in other states such as Texas and Wisconsin, found that the process for obtaining voter identifications was so onerous that more than a million people in the studied states could be barred from voting. “These voters can be particularly affected by the significant costs for the documentation required to obtain photo ID. Birth certificates can cost between $8 and $25. By comparison the notorious poll tax – outlawed during the civil rights era cost $10.64 in current dollars,” The Brennan Center stated.)

    The Sept. 18 order from the Pa. Supreme Court first noted that the state’s Constitution declares that “elections must be free and equal and ‘no power, civil, or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.’” The high court tossed the case back to the lower court judge with the order to ensure that implementation of the Voter ID law did not unconstitutionally interfere with the right to vote.

  • September 14, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Right-wing efforts to build hurdles to voting – especially in swing states – before the upcoming presidential contest have been dealt setbacks by federal courts within the month. For example, in Florida, Texas, and Ohio the courts have, at least temporarily, scuttled efforts to enforce rigid voter ID laws, curtailment of early voting times, and restrictions on voter registration drives.

    But there are also a string of lawsuits challenging states’ handling of provisional ballots.

    SEIU and others are fighting Ohio’s provisional ballot-counting rules. Specifically SEIU has sought a statewide injunction against an election law provision that disqualifies provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct or with errors caused by poll workers. (The Help America Vote Act, (HAVA) enacted by the federal government after the 2000 presidential election debacle, gives voters the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot if poll workers are unable to verify their identities. As The New York Times’ Ethan Bronner recently put it, “anyone whose identity or voting precinct is in doubt can ask for a provisional ballot at any polling station and then has a number of days to return with the required documentation to make the vote count.)

    In late August, U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley sided with SEIU’s request for a preliminary injunction against Ohio’s provisional ballot scheme. SEIU argued that the injunction was “necessary to prevent the irreparable and unconstitutional disqualification of thousands of lawfully registered voters’ ballots in the upcoming November 2012 general election.” (See Marbley’s opinion here, courtesy of Election Law Blog.)

    Judge Marbley noted that several years after HAVA was enacted, Ohio lawmakers created some voter ID requirements, which “have been referred to as ‘exceptionally convoluted.’” SEIU and the other groups argued before the judge that Ohio’s stringent voter ID law along with its process for handling provisional ballots are causes for “the relatively high rate of Ohio voters forced to cast provisional ballots rather than normal ballots in recent elections.”

    Citing Supreme Court precedent, Marbley said Ohio’s provisional ballot scheme must be carefully examined especially “since the right to exercise the franchise in a free and unimpaired manner is preservative of other basic civil and political rights, any alleged infringement of the right to citizens to vote must be carefully and meticulously scrutinized.”

    And after scrutinizing Ohio’s convoluted provisional ballot rules, the judge concluded the groups had a strong chance of proving they violate the Constitution’s equal protection clause in a number of ways.